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THE EDITORIAL titled "Blackboard Curtain" [March 2] questions the integrity of a number of organizations, such as the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia PTA, and the Virginia High School League, as well as the state senators who tabled what is widely known as the "Tebow bill," which would have given home-schooled and non-public school students the right to participate in public school interscholastic high school sports, clubs, and activities.
Rather than question the integrity of those involved in sidelining this bill, maybe we should look at the integrity of the bill overall. Before we look deeper into this bill, however, we should drop the argument that has been used so often during the debate--"home-schoolers' parents are paying taxes that help pay for these activities." Yes, they are. However, this reasoning just doesn't work. We all pay taxes for things that we don't directly benefit from. People with no children pay taxes that go toward public schools. People who take their bicycles to work pay taxes for highways. I pay taxes that help subsidize the VRE, but I have never ridden on the train.
Let's move on to the bill's positives. Studies have shown that participation in extracurricular activities is good for students' overall physical, mental, and social health. There were also several rules in the "Tebow bill" that make sense. The bill would require that the students demonstrate educational progress; they would have to be under the age of 19 and an uncompensated amateur; they would have to comply with disciplinary rules and undergo the same physical exams as public-school students; they would be responsible for the same fees; and they'd have to participate in activities at the school serving their attendance zone (a necessary regulation given what has become a very "seedy" side of amateur sports--recruiting).
There are, however, many issues and unanswered questions that complicate the Tebow bill. These are areas that were not addressed in the bill, but need clarification or further discussion should this bill be brought up in the future.
State funding is based on a school's attendance figure. Will Virginia pass along more money to schools that have additional students using their educators, coaches, classrooms, auditoriums, fields, and restrooms? If not, will the parents of home-schoolers pick up the tab as part of the "reasonable fee" for participation? How much is a reasonable fee?
There is overlap between what is taking place in classrooms and what is going on in interscholastic "after school" activities. As the parent of "musical" children, I know that when my kids are taking part in an after-school music activity--marching or jazz band--they are required to be enrolled in a music class as part of their curriculum. Besides general music education, they also practice many of their "extracurricular" pieces in class. The curriculum runs together, as it should. If home-schooled students aren't in class, an instructor won't know if they are capable of extracurricular participation. The same could be said of debate club, chorus, or any number of governed public school programs. Will this eliminate the ability of home-schooled children to participate in these events?
Lets get back to the rule about how home-schoolers must comply with the disciplinary rules that apply to high school students. Many of the disciplinary rules are applied to students while they are in school, so home-schoolers would not be subject to these rules. For example, many coaches have a disciplinary rule that does not allow a student to participate in an event if that student did not attend school that day. Does this rule eliminate the possibility of home-schoolers participating? Does the coach have to change this rule? How does he amend the rule to be fair to the home-schooled student and the student who is in school every day? Would home-schooled children be required to follow "in-school" rules at home? How would a coach know if a home-schooler was following the rules?
Another area that needs to be discussed is the effect it could have on current public school students. As a parent, I attend quite a few extracurricular events and see a certain school spirit that is exhibited by students participating on competitive teams. Many educators, coaches, and high school athletes see this school spirit as an integral part of team building. Will that same school spirit be exhibited when members of their team are not part of their everyday school "community"?
I understand why homeschooled students and their parents want to be able to take part in these activities; the benefits are obvious. And there may be room for future debate once these questions are answered. My opinion? In-school education and after-school activities go hand in hand. If you want the privilege of playing sports or participating in public school activities, then enroll in public school.
Home-schoolers have every right to opt out of the system. But when they opt out of a public education, they are also opting out of the benefits, including the privilege of public-school-sponsored extracurricular activities.
Sean Tarallo lives in Stafford